Dina Murphy says it was “scary” reopening the doors of her Dublin coffee shop for the first time after lockdown.
The manager of The Roasted Bean on Talbot Street has seen no shortage of colourful characters over the past 18 years.
But when they first welcomed customers after the third lockdown, the north inner-city street was “like a ghost-town”. “Everything was closed. You looked out and you couldn’t see anybody around. It was so scary,” she said.
While the office workers are still noticeably absent from the streets, Ms Murphy says it’s “getting busier now” with more traffic and footfall.
“You can really see it recently, things are definitely improving. It’s not going to be the same as before but this is a different normality that we’re going to have to live with for two, maybe three years,” she said.
The nearby Ripley Court hotel, once a busy hub for lunchtime trade, recently became a facility for homeless people, while a Chopped outlet near Amiens Street has now closed.
Recent figures released by Google and Apple reveal that Dublin is lagging behind other areas of the country following the relaxation of restrictions. Workplace attendance and public transport usage is still only at half of pre-pandemic levels.
If you want to witness the full effect the pandemic has had on Dublin’s city centre, look no further than the IFSC – the financial heart of the country.
It is 1pm on a sunny weekday afternoon. In normal circumstances, the area would be thronged with smartly-dressed office workers queuing up for €8 gourmet sandwiches.
Now, the CHQ building is eerily quiet, with just a small amount of lunchtime trade from construction workers and shoppers.
There are two customers in the Starbucks at the entrance to the building, while a staff member is wiping down the tables in a languid manner. The Luas trundles past with half a dozen people on it.
The Grafton Barber at Excise Walk is one of the few places with a small queue. Hair stylist Shannon Kehoe said business was “starting to pick up again” in recent weeks but still lags behind pre-pandemic days, when there used to be a queue out the door.
One of the oldest hotels in Dublin, The Address on Amiens Street (formerly the North Star), dates back to 1880 and has seen an entire city grow up around it. The third lockdown brought Dublin to its “lowest ebb”, but commercial manager Seán Reid says things have started to pick up.
“The international corporates are starting to come back, but it’s only a fraction of what it was,” he said. “What we’re seeing now is people living outside of the commuter belt going, ‘I’m working for two days in the office this week so I’ll just stay in Dublin in a hotel for one night’.”
Traffic outside the door of the hotel has also picked up, but footfall is still only at 20pc of the 2019 figure. His journey in from a northside suburb, which took 45 minutes until recently, now takes over an hour following the return of schools.
Mr Reid is hoping for a further pick-up from October 22, when the last of the restrictions are expected to be lifted.
He believes getting white-collar workers back into the city centre is essential for Dublin’s regeneration.
“There’s more movement now,” he said. “There’s a lot of cause for optimism in that we definitely seem to be coming out of the low and dark times that we were in.
“I remember our first American tourist that set foot in the place after lockdown. I came down myself to welcome them into the hotel. It was like, ’you’re back!’”